South Sydney have made a statement, making it five wins on the trot without their four Origin stars to consolidate their position in the NRL Top 4 by defeating Cronulla 22-14 at ANZ Stadium this evening.
Despite missing their key stars in Damien Cook, Dane Gagai, Angus Crichton and Greg Inglis, their replacements stepped up to the plate to snap the Sharks own five match winning streak, sending a message to the rest of the competition that they are building a strong case this year's dark horse.
Rookie coach Anthony Seibold has brought a new energy to this squad, with the 2014 Premiers continuing their hot form in an impressive display of what they have to offer outside their representative stars.
Despite a late fight back from the Sharks in the last 10 minutes, the Rabbitohs were in control for the majority of the match, which saw the home side steamroll the Sharks through the middle thanks to the resurgence of the Burgess Brothers, which was complemented by the adept kicking and direction of play by former NSW halfback Adam Reynolds.
The Bunnies further showcased their unpredictability in attack, with the dangerous counter attacking threat from Cody Walker and veteran John Sutton, who have continued to cause problems to the defensive line by not relying on simple block plays inside their own attacking zone to give the Rabbitohs a refreshing attacking structure in comparison to most sides in 2018.
Souths discipline with the ball in hand, which was so maligned in 2017 looks to be a thing of the past, with Souths completing the match with an 89% completion rate which made the task for Cronulla far too difficult to mount a serious comeback.
Despite conceding an early penalty goal to fall behind after just 5 minutes, the Rabbitohs weren't bothered early on, with the Burgess twins George and Tom making big in roads through the middle for the home side.
The Sharks gave the Rabbitohs a chance to equalize, when George Burgess made a strong run close to the line and the Sharks were penalised for a strip. Adam Reynolds made no mistake and it was 2 all.
Veteran backrower John Sutton then sliced through some lazy Sharks defence and found a rampaging Tom Burgess in support, with the English prop barging over for the first try of the game. Reynolds converted to extend the home side's lead to 8-2 to lead in the first quarter of the match.
The Sharks then suffered a significant blow, when representative backrower Wade Graham copped and accidental knee to the head from Sam Burgess and failed to return, restricting the Sharks bench to 16. Cronulla enforcer Andrew Fifita then gave away a penalty, holding onto Sam Burgess for an age to give Adam Reynolds another gift two points from in front. Reynolds obliged and Souths led 10-2 heading into halftime.
After the break, Souths skipped away when Adam Reynolds kicked to the corner and found a leaping Campbell Graham, who scored an absolute classic, with the rangy winger marking over the top of opposite Siosaia Feki to extend the Rabbitohs lead to 14-2 after just three minutes into the Second Half.
A further penalty goal to Reynolds extended the lead to 14 points, however the game was wrapped up with 10 minutes remaining, when Tom Burgess scored his second try off the back off a strong John Sutton run close to the line, which allowed the experienced Robbie Farah to skip out of dummy half and put Burgess over to extend the score line to 22-2.
Cronulla then raced in two late tries to rookies Jesse Ramien and Sione Katoa but it was far too late for the Sharks to be any serious threat. Souths now wait to see how Origin pans out for their quartet of representatives before they travel to the Gold Coast next Friday Night where they face the Titans.
Cronulla see their five match winning streak come to an end, however have a decent turn around before they face the Wests Tigers next Sunday at Shark Park.